Some Archaeology


SNL has now become the voice of conscience and sanity for many Americans. Of course, its messages have no official imprimatur, and, luckily for the fun of the inventors, it has no checks on its balance.

After a killingly funny parody of the White House spokesman last week, I knew some of it sounded familiar. I went into my crawl space at home to find my notes from when the current spokesman addressed a public gathering some years ago. In an earlier, larval phase, he was Communications Director for the Republican National Committee. After a battle against dust and clutter, I located the notes I’d taken February 13, 2012, when Mr. Spicer shared his insights with students at American University. He had once spent a semester there in intensive study, I think in the early 1990s. We can say he was well taught and was forthcoming in preparing young intellectuals for the harsh world of employment.

My recollections were not wrong. My longhand from 2012 recorded the RNC Comm Director speaking more of the How, than the Why or the What, of articulating policy to the public. This is good advice for students willing to bend moral principles for the greater good of being employed. We were grateful for his tips on that day. Useful for combat as well as mere communication, his words and thoughts demarcated the interlocutor as enemy. This is a novel approach to community and consensus building, and merits study.

Now he is an able spokesman for his current employer, and skillfully conveys the same degree of clarity, wit, empathy, and nuanced thinking as the president of the United States. Fair is fair. If you are able to assist an individual in being elected to high office, you should well be rewarded with a high-profile position.

I remember from that February talk five years ago, that Mr. Spicer gave good guidance to intelligent individuals seeking high profile positions. I also recalled correctly his use of a vocabulary mainly drawn from warfare. Here are the words he used on that day; I wrote them as I heard them:

Allies
Enemies
Gun it out
Crap shoot
A ton of buzz
Tactic
War room
Horse race
Screw us
Push out
Battle plan
Surrogates
Crush
Arm
Shoot out
Twitter war
Attack

Very correctly, he said that in a twitter strategy, “The number of tweet followers are [sic] of no importance; it’s the relative influence of each.”

He also ably defined the four rules of attribution – on the record, background, deep background, and off the record. He pointed out that in constructing effective negative attack ads, it is important to “source” all information. Good advice.
We can admire Sean Spicer’s strategic approach to job enhancement, and his loyalty to the One he serves. We can also thank him for his clarity in despising the average interlocutor, and the careful development of his intent to humiliate, cauterize, and threaten those who disagree.

I am grateful for his transparency and his assistance to good-hearted young people needing to feed their families at any cost to their credibility or decency.

Semper transparent, and may the good fight continue until resolved in favor of us all.


Dan Whitman teaches Foreign Policy at the Washington Semester Program, American University. As Public Diplomacy officer in USIA and the Department of State for more than 25 years, he drafted and edited speeches for U.S. ambassadors in Denmark, Spain, South Africa, Cameroon, Haiti, and Guinea-Conakry. A senior Foreign Service Officer, he retired in 2009 from the Bureau of African Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

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